Our Residency Adventure

Sitting in the darkened theater next to my husband, I watched the school staff ceremoniously draw one envelope after another from the large decorative chest in the middle of the Hippodrome stage and call out a name. The tension in the room was thick. Each student walked to the stage to retrieve his or her envelope and read the long-awaited contents out loud. Finally, after waiting for over an hour, we heard my husband’s name. To the accompaniment of a fast-paced song, my husband and four-year-old son ran on stage to be congratulated and to receive his envelope. He quickly ripped it open and whispered something to my son, who then yelled, “VCU Richmond!” into the microphone. The words reverberated around the room, and my heartbeat quickened as I tried to make sense of what I had heard. The next hour felt surreal. We called and texted our family and close friends to let them know the news: We would be spending the next three years of our lives in Richmond, Virginia!

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When I met my husband in 2009, he was completing his bachelors in Talmudic law and medicine prerequisites at Ner Yisrael. (Prior to dating my husband, I had never envisioned marrying a doctor, but Hashem obviously had other plans for me!) After we got married, Dani continued learning in Ner Yisrael while also studying for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCATS). He also spent some time shadowing doctors, engaging in research, and organizing blood drives for the American Red. After receiving his MCAT score, Dani put together a list of the schools he planned to apply to and completed his primary medical school application and personal statement for each. Some of the schools he applied to requested a more detailed secondary application, which he completed as well. Then we waited to see which programs would offer an interview. Baruch Hashem, my husband was offered an interview at University of Maryland, one of his top choices, and was accepted!

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Dani’s four years of medical school seemed to pass in a blur (at least in retrospect!) and before we knew it, he was chest-deep in the application process again. This time, however, he was applying to residency programs. Dani had decided that, ideally, he would like to find a spot in a residency program that would be open to his not working on Shabbos or Yom Tov. This made the process even more challenging as he had to find out prior to applying to each program whether they would accommodate him in this way. (Of course, he was willing to do more than his fair share to make sure the arrangement was equitable to all involved parties.) This condition, in addition to only applying to programs commutable from an Orthodox community, helped him narrow down his list substantially.

Dani spent the next few months traveling by car, bus, and plane to interviews in Chicago, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York. He did this all while finishing up his last year of medical school. Following his interviews, Dani had to submit a list of all the programs for which he had interviewed, in order of personal preference, on the National Resident Matching Program’s website. The programs also submitted a list, but theirs was a list of the interviewees (also in order of preference). Then a computer algorithm compiled all the data from both the applicants and the residency programs and matched each applicant to a program in which they had ranked. (While it is possible not to receive a match at all, since there are more applicants than spots, some people who don’t match the first time can find an open spot in a program they did not initially apply to through the “secondary match” process.) Finally, on “match day,” each applicant finds out which program they were assigned to by the match’s algorithm, which brings us back to that fateful day in the Hippodrome theater.

Soon after matching, we began to explore options for housing, shuls, schools, and employment in the Richmond area. Because Richmond has a wonderful frum community, finding a shul and school were easy. Finding a job for myself was easy as well, thanks to the help of the rav and another community member. Finding somewhere to live, however, was a lot more challenging! We ideally wanted to move two weeks before residency started so that we would have time to unpack and settle in before it began. Unfortunately, many of the rental properties we looked at were either not available until later in the summer or were out of our price range.

We came down three times to look at rental properties. Baruch Hashem, a number of individuals in the Richmond Jewish community offered their time and expertise to help us with this process. In the end, a friend of mine from seminary, who had relocated to Richmond with her family, let me know about our current house the day it went on the market, and we were able to get the owners to hold it for us until we could come down to sign the lease a few days later. 

July 1 is the first day for new residents, and Dani’s orientation started two weeks prior to that. We moved on Monday, June 8, 2015, and were blessed to have family follow us down to help us settle in. With their help, we were able to unpack almost the entire house within two days! We were also incredibly blessed to have a full week of meals provided for us by members of the community.  

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It is now almost two years since our move, and my husband will start his last year of residency this July. And while being the wife of a resident definitely has its challenges, it has also been very rewarding. We feel especially blessed to have had the privilege of joining the Richmond Jewish community. Being part of such a warm and family-focused community makes the challenges a lot more manageable.

One of the greatest challenges of residency, as many know, is the unpredictable and grueling schedule. This impacts us in different ways. I have learned not to make any plans dependent on my husband’s schedule as things can change at any moment. I usually plan activities that we can do with or without my husband, so that I know there will be some structure to our day no matter what happens. While Dani does get Sundays off occasionally, he is usually “on call,” which means that he can be called into the hospital whenever extra help is needed or on “phone calls,” which means that he answers people who call the doctors’ “after hours” phone number with medical questions.

An unpredictable schedule is especially hard on erev Shabbos or Yom Tov as I never know what time my husband will walk in the door. And, because what he is doing is often piku’ach nefesh (saving a life), there is always the possibility that he will need to finish something in the hospital and be delayed in coming home for Shabbos. One Friday night, Dani had to park his car downtown and walk home. Baruch Hashem, he was giving another frum man a ride home and they were able to walk home together. Unfortunately, I had already turned off my phone, so Dani was unable to get through to let me know what was going on. I was pretty rattled when he did not arrive until over two hours after Shabbos had started. Baruch Hashem, everyone was all right.

Legal holidays as well as winter and summer vacations are challenging, too. Dani is almost always working, and many of the places I would normally take my kids are closed. Our first Thanksgiving in Richmond was hard for me. All our friends were spending the day with immediate or extended family; we had no plans but definitely did not want to stay in the house all day. In the end, we decided to visit Dani in the hospital and bring him and the other residents (kosher) Krispie Kreme donuts. In the afternoon, we helped organize the Jewish library. In addition to keeping us busy, we were able to give back to others, which was very meaningful to us. This year, our family came down from Baltimore for the Thanksgiving weekend, which was really nice. (We were also very touched by a friend’s invitation to join her family’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.)

At this point, probably the greatest challenge that residency presents is having limited support with child care since we do not have family in town and Dani’s schedule does not allow him to help out a lot. I am lucky to have a job that is part-time and flexible, so I am often able to adjust my schedule if our children have vacation, are sick, or have no school. There are times, though, when I am unable to find coverage for my children, and it can be very stressful. I am still working on finding appropriate support to help me balance all of my responsibilities inside and outside of the home, and recently asked an elementary-school-age girl to come to my house after school one day a week to be a “mother’s helper.” It has been great.

Being a resident’s wife comes with its own set of unique challenges, but overall, I feel very blessed to be where I am now and to be able to support my husband in his goal of becoming a pediatrician. I am also blessed to have a flexible job where I feel I make a difference and to live an incredibly warm and chesed-oriented community where we have made many wonderful friends.


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